Koutoujian Delivers Personal Talk at Tufts

By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

MEDFORD, Mass. — Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian delivered the address at the annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at Tufts University on April 16, at the university’s Goddard Chapel.

Koutoujian spoke from the heart about what it meant as a young man to become aware of his Armenian heritage and issued a called to action for the members of the Armenian-American community to become more involved with politics, starting at the local level, in order to get their voices heard.

The focus of his talk was the “zartonk,” the reawakening of Armenian intellectuals in the 19th century, with a resurgence of literature and literary publications, as well as new translations of European literary masterpieces and a resulting quest for social justice in the Ottoman Empire.

The members and leaders of the Armenian community, he said, were on the outside looking in and “politically disconnected.”

Then, as in now, “we are materially wealthy and connected. We are in the position of standing around the table rather than having a seat at that table,” he said.

He stressed, “We in the Armenian community can find the best champion for justice by looking in the mirror. Being in political power is necessary.”

Koutoujian lamented that pursuit of political office is not something stressed in the community. “It is in public office that Armenians need to be.”

“We must experience a 21st century Zartonk so that justice is in our own hands and not at the mercy of others,” he said. “We also need to support our non-Armenian friends. It is time for a new chapter.”

He reflected on his run last year for a House seat, saying that even though he did not win, he was able to bring in and interest many people in the political process, adding that he was heartened to hear that several of the volunteers on his campaign were working on other political campaigns now.

Saying, “my family history is not very different from others,” he spoke about his grandfather and grandmother, survivors of the Armenian Genocide who hailed from Marash and eventually made their way to the US. They fled Marash separately, with his grandfather following the French cavalry in the snow, with his very young sister in his arms.

“Veronica [his great-aunt] simply wanted to die. My grandfather would not let this happen. He would shake her and make her stay awake,” he recalled. They made it to the US in 1920.

His grandmother ended up in Aleppo. Through a Red Cross family-finder program, his grandparents found each other and settled in Boston.

“We don’t know if they had children back at home. After fleeing, they did not want to speak about what they saw,” Koutoujian said.

“This was just two generations ago,” he said, bringing the horrors that much closer to the audience.

He spoke about his first campaign for state representative against an incumbent, eventually defeating him by a large margin. He said he saw his position as one that was “a reflection on the Armenian community. I took up that mantle. It is something I embraced.”

Koutoujian said during his years in office, he has been proudest of the Armenian Heritage Park, crediting Gov. Deval Patrick for his help.

The program was sponsored by Tufts University, the Darakjian-Jafarian Chair in Armenian History, the Department of History, the Armenian Club at Tufts University and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).

The evening was hosted by Ina Baghdiantz McCabe, Professor of History and Darakjian-Jafarian Chair of Armenian History at Tufts University.